The Public Health Emergency Declaration (Emergency Declaration) made under the Public Health Act 1997 (Tas) in response to COVID-19 ended on 1 July 2022. This article outlines the key changes and provides guidance for employers in managing the ongoing risk of COVID-19.
- Public Health Directions, made under the Emergency Declaration, have now lapsed. The Directions included various restrictions, however the main change is that there is no longer any government requirements for any workers to be vaccinated, nor government imposed capacity limits or requirements (other than what is set out below) to wear face masks in any setting.
- Public Health Orders have now been made under the “general powers” available under the Public Health Act. These include the requirement for positive cases to isolate at home, and for close contacts to do a RAT test daily and wear a face mask when outside their home.
- Employers must continue to provide a safe working environment under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (Tas) (WHS Act), including by implementing and updating their COVID-19 risk management plan.
What is changing
The Tasmanian Government no longer requires vaccinations of any workers in Tasmania, however it is strongly recommended that all workers keep up to date with their vaccinations. Mandatory vaccination is now a “private matter” for employers to implement based on their individual risk assessment. Mandatory vaccination policies must be lawful and reasonable in the circumstances and follow meaningful consultation with employees. Employers should consider obtaining legal advice before implementing a mandatory vaccination policy, as there are workplace relations, discrimination, and privacy issues to consider.
Further changes include that face masks are no longer required in public unless required under risk assessments for individual settings or if you are a confirmed case (in circumstances where you may expose others to COVID-19), a close contact or on board a commercial aircraft in Australia.
What is staying the same
Positive cases must still isolate for at least 7 days and tell their close contacts that they have tested positive and register their positive RAT test with the Tasmanian Government. Close contacts need to test for COVID-19 and follow close contact rules, which include testing daily for a period of 7 days if they are leaving home. Close contacts must tell their workplace if they are a close contact. Close contacts must not attend any high-risk settings, such as hospitals, aged care facilities, residential disability settings and correctional facilities, unless they are a critical worker and are on the premises as part of their employment or for medical treatment.
Best practice tips for managing COVID-19 in the workplace
Despite the absence of the Emergency Declaration, COVID-19 remains a hazard that poses risks to the health and safety of workers and one which employers must continue to manage. Employers have a duty under the WHS Act to eliminate or minimise the risk of COVID-19 so far as reasonably practicable. Employers must identify the various risks that COVID-19 poses by undertaking a risk assessment and by implementing safety control measures. A risk assessment should not be a ‘set and forget’ document. All risk assessments should be regularly reviewed and updated as circumstances change.
In addition to the above, employers can manage the risk of COVID-19 by taking the following actions:
- Stay up to date with Public Health alerts and changes to Public Health Orders;
- Maintain and update COVID-19 safety plans (template COVID-19 safety plans are available on the WorkSafe Tasmania website);
- Have a plan to manage outbreaks if and when they occur;
- Increase ventilation in the workplace where possible;
- Display safety information and ensuring workers are kept well informed about workplace health and safety policies and procedures;
- Remind workers that they too have a duty to protect each other from hazards in the workplace;
- Consider the specific risks posed to any vulnerable workers and manage those risks appropriately;
- Recommend workers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenzas;
- Maintain good hygiene practices and physical distancing;
- Encourage workers to have large meetings online where possible;
- Allow workers to work from home where possible;
- Provide free hand sanitiser and face masks to all workers;
- Encourage workers to wear face masks (particularly in high-risk settings and in situations where it is not possible to physically distance);
- Ensure cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched areas; and
- Continue to encourage workers to monitor for symptoms, stay at home if they are unwell, get tested if they have symptoms and cover coughs and sneezes.
If you have any queries or would like further information regarding this article, please contact:
M: 0416 794 061
T: (03) 6235 5125
Published: 6 July 2022